Selecting a Contractor for your Remodeling Project - PART I

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Whether you’re planning an addition for a growing family or simply getting new storm windows, finding a competent and reliable contractor is the first step to a successful and satisfying home improvement project.

Your home may be your most valuable financial asset. That’s why it’s important to be cautious when you hire someone to work on it. Home improvement and repair and maintenance contractors often advertise in newspapers, the Yellow Pages, and on the radio and TV. However, don’t consider an ad an indication of the quality of a contractor’s work. Your best bet is a reality check from those in the know: friends, neighbors, or co-workers who have had improvement work done. Get written estimates from several firms. Ask for explanations for price variations. Don’t automatically choose the lowest bidder.

Home Improvement Professionals:

Depending on the size and complexity of your project, you may choose to work with a number of different professionals:

• General Contractors manage all aspects of your project, including hiring and supervising subcontractors, getting building permits, and scheduling inspections. They also work with architects and designers.

• Speciality Contractors install particular products, such as cabinets and bathroom fixtures.

• Architects design homes, additions, and major renovations. If your project includes structural changes, you may want to hire an architect who specializes in home remodeling.

• Designers have expertise in specific areas of the home, such as kitchens and baths.

• Design/Build Contractors provide one-stop service. They see your project through from start to finish. Some firms have architects on staff; others use certified designers.

Don’t Get Nailed:

Not all contractors operate within the law. Here are some tip-offs to potential rip-offs. A less than reputable contractor:

• solicits door-to-door;
• just happens to have materials left over from a previous job;
• asks you to get the required building permits;
• does not list a business number in the local telephone directory;
• asks you to pay for the entire job up-front;
• offers you discounts for finding other customers;
• only accepts cash payments;
• tells you your job will be a "demonstration;"
• pressures you for an immediate decision;
• offers exceptionally long guarantees;
• suggests that you borrow money from a lender the contractor knows. If you’re not careful, you could lose your home through a home improvement loan scam.

Hiring a Contractor:

Interview each contractor you’re considering. Here are some questions to ask.

• How long have you been in business? Look for a well-established company and check it out with consumer protection officials. They can tell you if there are unresolved consumer complaints on file. One caveat: No record of complaints against a particular contractor doesn’t necessarily mean no previous consumer problems. It may be that problems exist, but have not yet been reported, or that the contractor is doing business under several different names.

• Are you licensed and registered with the state (province)? While most states license electrical and plumbing contractors, only 36 states have some type of licensing and registration statutes affecting contractors, remodelers, and/or specialty contractors. The licensing can range from simple registration to a detailed qualification process. Also, the licensing requirements in one locality may be different from the requirements in the rest of the state. Check with your local building department or consumer protection agency to find out about licensing requirements in your area. If your state has licensing laws, ask to see the contractor’s license. Make sure it’s current.

• How many projects like mine have you completed in the last year? Ask for a list. This will help you determine how familiar the contractor is with your type of project.

• Will my project require a permit? Most states, provinces and localities require permits for building projects, even for simple jobs like decks. A competent contractor will get all the necessary permits before starting work on your project. Be suspicious if the contractor asks you to get the permit(s). It could mean that the contractor is not licensed or registered, as required by your state or locality.

• May I have a list of references? The contractor should be able to give you the names, addresses, and phone numbers of at least three clients who have projects similar to yours. Ask each how long ago the project was completed and if you can see it. Also, tell the contractor that you’d like to visit jobs in progress.

• Will you be using subcontractors on this project? If yes, ask to meet them, and make sure they have current insurance coverage and licenses, if required. Also ask them if they were paid on time by this contractor. A "mechanic’s lien" could be placed on your home if your contractor fails to pay the subcontractors and suppliers on your project. That means the subcontractors and suppliers could go to court to force you to sell your home to satisfy their unpaid bills from your project. Protect yourself by asking the contractor, and every subcontractor and supplier, for a lien release or lien waiver.

• What types of insurance do you carry? Contractors should have personal liability, worker’s compensation, and property damage coverage. Ask for copies of insurance certificates, and make sure they’re current. Avoid doing business with contractors who don’t carry the appropriate insurance. Otherwise, you’ll be held liable for any injuries and damages that occur during the project.

Checking References:

Talk with some of the remodeler’s former customers. They can help you decide if a particular contractor is right for you. You may want to ask:

• Can I visit your home to see the completed job?
• Were you satisfied with the project?
• Was it completed on time?
• Did the contractor keep you informed about the status of the project, and any problems along the way?
• Were there unexpected costs? If so, what were they?
• Did workers show up on time?
• Did they clean up after finishing the job?
• Would you recommend the contractor?
• Would you use the contractor again?

Understanding Your Payment Options:

You have several payment options for most home improvement and maintenance and repair projects. For example, you can get your own loan or ask the contractor to arrange financing for larger projects. For smaller projects, you may want to pay by check or credit card. Avoid paying cash. Whatever option you choose, be sure you have a reasonable payment schedule and a fair interest rate. Here are some additional tips:

• Try to limit your down payment. Some state laws limit the amount of money a contractor can request as a down payment. Contact your state or local consumer agency to find out what the law is in your area.

• Try to make payments during the project contingent upon completion of a defined amount of work. This way, if the work is not proceeding according to schedule, the payments also are delayed.

• Don’t make the final payment or sign an affidavit of final release until you are satisfied with the work and know that the subcontractors and suppliers have been paid. Lien laws in your state may allow subcontractors and/or suppliers to file a mechanic’s lien against your home to satisfy their unpaid bills. Contact your local consumer agency for an explanation of lien laws where you live.

• Some state or local laws limit the amount by which the final bill can exceed the estimate, unless you have approved the increase. Check with your local consumer agency.

• If you have a problem with merchandise or services that you charged to a credit card, and you have made a good faith effort to work out the problem with the seller, you have the right to withhold from the card issuer payment for the merchandise or services. You can withhold payment up to the amount of credit outstanding for the purchase, plus any finance or related charges.

Read PART II -

The preceding home improvement article was contributed by Renovation Headquarters, owned and operated by Bill Prudehome. With more than 25 years in senior positions in the construction industry, Bill has been providing home renovation, home remodel and repair services to individuals and small business throughout North America.

Katherin7 at 3:06am October 19

Thanks for great recommendations. Hiring a contractor for home improvement is a very popular option, home decoration isn't cheap, that's why lots of people use contractor's service. But I agree that it's important to make sure that you are dealing with a fail person and offered reasonable interest rates and repayment terms. For a smaller purchases you can also pay with a help of payday advance, it's very quick. But it's important to check refences and make sure that you trust your house and finances to a professional and reliable person.

ferrah at 4:29pm February 24

Choosing a contractor is always a difficult task. Unless of course you have enough friends or family who have had experience with someone and can recommend their work. Word of mouth I think is the only 100% sure way to choose a good company. I've recently been having a hard time finding a credit card processing company. Reviews are abundant online but I don't think many of them can be trusted. Looking at how things are going I'll be starting with Paypal.

chateaugroup at 3:34am January 7

Agreed, it's a very difficult task to find one, except for this residential remodeler in lebanon ohio.

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